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Got Ghosts! – A Halloween haunted manor #history #ghosts

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Westmorland Writer and pal, Fiona Glass to tell us about her new book, ‘Got Ghosts?’

Live in Cumbria? You can find the Westmorland Writers here on Facebook. Over to Fiona!

got ghosts frontIt’s history, Jim, but not as we know it

You may wonder what I’m doing here on Deborah’s blog. Fair enough, I have a new book out, but it’s a paranormal romp set firmly in the present, and there’s nothing very historical about a TV production crew being chased round a haunted manor house by a bunch of ghosts.  More hysterical than historical, or so you might think.

However, there’s quite a bit of history in ‘Got Ghosts?’ if you peer through the cracks in the floorboards.

First, there’s that haunted manor house. Greystones Hall (loosely based on various old houses I’ve visited over the years including Snowshill Manor, Chillingham Castle and Harvington Hall) is described as “…a typical English country house, with bits surviving from almost every century since 1066 – and the foundations of a Saxon chapel to boot.” It’s long, low, rambling, and in parts incredibly ancient – just like many old houses scattered the length and breadth of the country, some of which have been inhabited by the same family since the year dot. Sizergh Castle in Cumbria, for instance, has been in the hands of the Strickland family for over 750 years, and there are plenty more just like that.

Most of those old houses are chock full of family possessions gathered over not just decades but literally centuries. Those possessions, like the homes themselves, have their own stories to tell, of how and why they were cherished or created, and what happened to them over the years. Some remained at the heart of a home; others were lost or destroyed. In ‘Got Ghosts?’ it’s very much a case of the latter, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what, and why!

64_Interior_dusty wikiMany old country homes are also riddled with secret passages and ‘priest holes’ – small spaces built into the fabric of the house for Catholic priests to hide or escape at a time (mostly in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) when they were persecuted. Sometimes these are tiny and would only have housed the vestments and vessels for Mass. Sometimes they were much larger and provided space for one or several priests to hide up for hours or even days. The priest hole at Greystones Hall isn’t unusual; some houses had two or three, and the best, Harvington Hall in Worcestershire, has about ten.

Then, of course, there are the ghosts. And wherever you have ghosts, you have history, because those ghosts were people once with their own stories, families, and fates. In ‘Got Ghosts?’ they range from a medieval knight right through to the present day and heroine Emily’s grandfather, who still watches over her. There’s also the mad, bad Alfred, a Byronesque artist from the early nineteenth century, whose story weaves together with that of Greystones Hall and is central to the book.

History is all around us really. Scratch the surface of the most modern thing you can think of and history bleeds from its very pores. I just hope you’ll agree that it’s history bleeding from the pages of  ‘Got Ghosts?’, and not something else!   READ MORE

Fiona Glass Website

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Historical Fiction – Halloween winter reads #HistFic

The Dark Side of Magic

Sunday morning, and outside there is what my mother used to call a ‘mizzle’, which is a cross between rain and mist. Autumn is already here and after a hectic time launching Pleasing Mr Pepys, I’ve finally got the time to write reviews for some of the books I’ve read, including one I actually read in the summer. But it seemed appropriate just before Hallowe’en to feature two books which show the darker side of magic. In Anna Belfrage’s book the magic travels through time, through the Inquisition, to 17th century Scotland and even to modern times. In Pamela Mann’s book the magic is anchored in the Elizabethan world – it could be superstition or it could be magic – and Pamela leaves the reader to decide.

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A Rip in The Veil – Anna Belfrage

This one had been on my kindle for ages and came highly recommended, but I’m not really a fan of timeslip novels so I had kept putting it to one side. I think I always find that the actual time shift moment stretches my disbelief a little too much – the moment when someone falls through a picture, or gets sucked into a vortex. However Anna Belfrage is an expert at making the most of that moment, so I need not have feared it was going to be ‘too cheesy’. Instead we are treated to a moment which tingles all the senses, and allows us to feel what such a moment might really be like.

Of course being transported back into the 17th century gives Anna Belfrage a chance to refect on society both then and now. There is what you would expect – the repression of women, the narrowness of society, but also an understanding of just how violent society was before our modern judicial system, the importance of agriculture and land, and the lack of material possessions, all things that Alex Lind has to come to grips with in her new life in a new century.

More than just a romance, this will please readers who like accurate history, but also appreciate a passionate relationship that is realistically portrayed. I appreciated all the minor chracters in the book too, such as Matthew’s bitter and vengeful brother, and Alex’s traumatised husband, as they each have a story to tell. Multi-layered and exciting, this is romantic fiction at its best.

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Birth of GossipThe Birth of Gossip – Pamela Mann

I met Pamela Mann at the Historical Novel Conference where she first told me of this novel which sounded interesting, and an unusual way to approach an Elizabethan story. Midwife Margory has never lost a child, but becomes the subject of malicious gossip by two other midwives who are jealous of her success. Things take a darker turn, when Margory is invited to attend at the birth of one of Lady Winchester’s children and things do not quite go to plan.

Through the book we learn Margory’s backstory, how she met her husband Arthur, and became a well-respected wife in a big house, and then how her fortunes fell. Of course it is also a story about witchcraft and about rumour and the deliberate blackening of another’s name, not to mention the responsibility of midwifery in an age before anaesthetic, caesarians, or edpidurals.

It is also a story in which the narrator may not be all she seems, and Pamela Mann skilfully uses this twist at the end to untether the reader’s presumptions. Told in the first person, we are privy to all of Margory’s thoughts, and her changes in status, and she shows a strength, even a stubbornness, which is very convincing. The cover, in my opinion, does not do the book justice, as it conveys none of the colourful atmosphere and detail of the times which are present in the actual story. Pamela Mann’s descriptions of the Manor and how much Margory regrets the loss of its heyday, are very atmospheric. All in all, this is an immensely engaging read which rattles along at a good pace.

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